Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 4, Issue 11;   March 17, 2004: When You're the Target of a Bully

When You're the Target of a Bully

by

Workplace bullies are probably the organization's most expensive employees. They reduce the effectiveness not only of their targets, but also of bystanders and of the organization as a whole. What can you do if you become a target?

Thomas was now officially rattled. He thought, 'He knows I hate the name "Tommy".' So he blanked PowerPoint, walked around to Warren's side of the conference table, and said, "Look. For the nth time, my name is Thomas. Not Tommy."

Warren looked up at Thomas from a frightened-looking slouch. "Sure…Thomas? I'm so sorry," he whined with fake sincerity. "I'm sorry if I got you so upset. I'll try to remember. Thomas. Got it."

A target with darts in it

A target with a dart in it. The term target, as applied in the context of bullying, is more apt than might first appear. Many bullies know how to choose targets who are particularly vulnerable to the tactics at which the bully is most adept. Uncanny accuracy is typical.

Warren is clever, and Thomas has just blundered into a trap. Warren had been sniping at Thomas all through the presentation. It wasn't just Warren's use of "Tommy" — there was much more to it. But to some of the others in the room, Thomas now appears to be the bully, and Warren the victim — instead of the reverse.

This tactic, which I call "reversing the victim," is just one of the many available to workplace bullies. By subtly attacking their targets, often in public but out of the awareness of others, bullies can maneuver their targets into "losing it," and then the target seems to others to be the attacker, while the attacker appears to be the victim.

Even if the target retains self-control, and seeks support, witnesses, or advice, the lack of evidence to support charges of abuse can make the target seem "overly sensitive" or "paranoid."

Workplace bullies use aggression to reduce their targets' effectiveness as employees. Often, the motive is political — increased status, political power, or resources — but some bullies attack from compulsion, or for other less rational motives.

What can you do if you become the target of a bully?

Accept that you must defend yourself
Most targets "Reversing the victim"
is just one of many
tactics available to
workplace bullies
are either naïve about attack tactics, or unwilling to mount a counteroffensive. Until you commit to an effective offense, you'll remain a target.
Distinguish the mob from its leader
Bullies recruit allies easily, especially from among those who are relieved that they aren't targets themselves. Be clear in your own mind who the bully really is.
Keep a journal
Record every incident, with as much detail as possible, including time, location, witnesses, and what was said or done. Photos and recordings are helpful.
Don't retaliate in kind; don't run away
Your attacker knows this battlefield better than you do, and has the initiative as well. You'd probably lose in a frontal counterattack. Running away probably won't help either — bullies are everywhere.
File formal complaints
When you've accumulated overwhelming evidence of abuse, exploit your organization's grievance procedures. Escalate to the max. This will make clear to your attacker that continued attacks will be costly. Legal counsel can also be helpful — you might be able to use the law in your counterattack.

Accept that wishing or waiting won't help. Once you're targeted, the safe life you thought you had is over. Go to top Top  Next issue: Intimidation Tactics: Touching  Next Issue

101 Tips for Targets of Workplace BulliesAre you being targeted by a workplace bully? Do you know what to do to end the bullying? Workplace bullying is so widespread that a 2014 survey indicated that 27% of American workers have experienced bullying firsthand, that 21% have witnessed it, and that 72% are aware that bullying happens. Yet, there are few laws to protect workers from bullies, and bullying is not a crime in most jurisdictions. 101 Tips for Targets of Workplace Bullies is filled with the insights targets of bullying need to find a way to survive, and then to finally end the bullying. Also available at Apple's iTunes store! Just USD 9.99. Order Now!

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenQvvJtYZevxcFWPJzner@ChaclunNquZlpIbSgzLvoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Workplace Bullying:

A thiefLooking the Other Way
Sometimes when we notice wrongdoing, and we aren't directly involved, we don't report it, and we don't intervene. We look the other way. Typically, we do this to avoid the risks of making a report. But looking the other way is also risky. What are the risks of looking the other way?
Threatened and fearfulThe Costs of Threats
Threatening as a way of influencing others might work in the short term. But a pattern of using threats to gain compliance has long-term effects that can undermine your own efforts, corrode your relationships, and create an atmosphere of fear.
A polar bear, feeding, on landResponding to Threats: III
Workplace threats come in a variety of flavors. One class of threats is indirect. Threateners who use the indirect threats aim to evoke fear of consequences brought about not by the threatener, but by other parties. Indirect threats are indeed warnings, but not in the way you might think.
An FBI SWAT team assists local law enforcement in New Orleans in August 2005The Paradox of Structure and Workplace Bullying
Structures of all kinds — organizations, domains of knowledge, cities, whatever — are both enabling and limiting. To gain more of the benefits of structure, while avoiding their limits, it helps to understand this paradox and learn to recognize its effects.
A human marionetteManipulators Beware
When manipulators try to manipulate others, they're attempting to unscrupulously influence their targets to decide or act in some way the manipulators prefer. But some targets manage to outwit their manipulators.

See also Workplace Bullying and Conflict Management for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

The Jolly RogerComing August 22: Dealing with Credit Appropriation
Very little is more frustrating than having someone else claim credit for the work you do. Worse, sometimes they blame you if they get into trouble after misusing your results. Here are three tips for dealing with credit appropriation. Available here and by RSS on August 22.
RMS Titanic departing Southampton on April 10, 1912And on August 29: Please Reassure Them
When things go wildly wrong, someone is usually designated to investigate and assess the probability of further trouble. That role can be risky. Here are three guidelines for protecting yourself if that role falls to you. Available here and by RSS on August 29.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenJEOfxOlEWNRZrOQkner@ChacCLXSkijtaeoodkwZoCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Follow me at Google+ or share a post Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
Technical Debt for Policymakers BlogMy blog, Technical Debt for Policymakers, offers resources, insights, and conversations of interest to policymakers who are concerned with managing technical debt within their organizations. Get the millstone of technical debt off the neck of your organization!
101 Tips for Managing ConflictFed up with tense, explosive meetings? Are you the target of a bully? Learn how to make peace with conflict.
Reader Comments About My Newsletter
A sampling:
  • Your stuff is brilliant! Thank you!
  • You and Scott Adams both secretly work here, right?
  • I really enjoy my weekly newsletters. I appreciate the quick read.
  • A sort of Dr. Phil for Management!
  • …extremely accurate, inspiring and applicable to day-to-day … invaluable.
  • More
Ebooks, booklets and tip books on project management, conflict, writing email, effective meetings and more.
Comprehensive collection of all e-books and e-bookletsSave a bundle and even more important save time! Order the Combo Package and download all ebooks and tips books at once.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.